Recently, the Parliament of the European Union has been quick to curtail an act of corruption among its members, suspected or not. This resulted in the deputy speaker of the parliament, Eva Kaili, being pushed by the Qatari government in a lobbying effort to get the organization to support its position. In that case, an investigation is carried out, homes are searched and more than a million euros are confiscated from people involved in corruption allegations. The EU Parliament has stripped the president of his powers.
I think the EU parliament’s move is commendable. In fact, when political institutions take measures to protect their integrity, they keep the whole system functioning well for the benefit of the majority. Failure to do anything when such cases arise can lead to system breakdown, and endanger trust in government, as well as democracy. However, the woman at the center of it has defended herself. What he’s saying makes me wonder again about a question I had in my mind as a teenager.
Meanwhile, Kaili’s lawyer says his client has done nothing wrong. He said that Qatar does not even need to bribe anyone, because that country has already considered the issues in the parliament on popular issues. Kaili was working on a plan that started in 2019, and in fact the EU High Representative and the Commissioner for Home Affairs decided to cooperate with Qatar, Kuwait and Oman at committee level, the lawyer added. In addition, Kaili traveled to Qatar as a representative of the European Parliament.
The media space has also mentioned Morocco in the bribery saga. Morocco is said to be eager to influence the EU parliament on issues such as the Sahara Republic, which it claims is its own. Morocco has since denied the bribery allegation, as has Qatar. For me, this allegation of lobbying and bribery in the EU parliament raises interesting questions. When a 14-year-old came across the word “lobbying” while studying the subject “government” in secondary school, I know that such a subject is not as simple as it seems. It is complex, and I will try to point out some of the branches of the complex web that is the phenomenon of lobbying.
In general, lobbying is acceptable in a democracy, that is, individuals and organizations persuading decision makers to support their cause. In fact, lobbying members of parliament to enact pro-action laws is part of the legislative process and the fabric of representative democracy. Now, the saga of the EU parliament is not the first time I have come across situations in which individuals, organizations, parliamentarians and government officials are cited in connection with allegations of bribery in a lobbying process. Many high officials of the Western world have been listed in this respect. I can’t remember all such accusations that I encountered in those days as a teenager time, Newsweekand The Economist magazines (US and UK publications) had to be imported and were a weekly must-read for me. They featured stories of US lawmakers and citizens, as well as foreigners involved in bribery scandals, in an effort to get members of the US Congress to vote for or against a bill.
The same is true in the UK of former prime ministers, ministers, other nationals and foreigners being reported to have been involved in lobbying-related corruption. Even when I was a teenager, this raised a puzzle for me: where does lobbying stop and where does bribery begin? This puzzle is further compounded by the numerous allegations of money collected by Nigerian government officials to help foreigners pursue a case. Everywhere, we know that legislators can be lobbied. But they can be punished for collecting money. Two pairs of the UK House of Lords have recently been suspended for collecting money for advice they provide to companies seeking government approval of their products. However, in western nations we have also heard of people who are involved as lobbyists and collect a commission. They collect gifts. Sometimes it is completely acceptable, sometimes conditional, sometimes illegal. So, another question, is a member of parliament who has participated in the lobby entitled to anything?
This question becomes even more relevant when we take it to Nigeria, where cases of government officials collecting large sums of money from foreigners have led to these foreigners getting one contract or the other. When a government official helps an entity to do something, can he charge a commission or “appreciation” as Nigerians prefer? If a government official can collect “appreciation,” can a legislator do the same for helping to pass or block a law? Or that when legislators help lobby, they don’t have to pack anything, not even a bottle of cold water. drink water as northerners say?
More questions arise that even foreigners are not prohibited from lobbying in western democracies. This comes in many forms and one nation that is often cited in terms of its lobbying power in the US and UK is Israel. The Arab nations are not left out either. In fact, those seeking political office in Western nations go to events organized by groups that lobby for those nations. There, they ask for support for their political ambitions in various ways. In the UK, for example, both the Tory and Labor parties have been accused of accepting donations from well-known groups that lobby for foreign nations of which they are citizens.
Some lobby groups are so famous that when the governments of western nations want to make their policies heard loudly and gather large supporters, the events organized by these groups are the best places. And sometimes the hands of these lobby groups are not so publicly visible. They simply fund a think-tank, endowment fund, organization, etc. owned by a citizen of the western nation they work for. Of course, political office seekers, government officials, etc. they like to identify with such institutions. That is one angle that examines the extent to which lobbyists, local or foreign, are embedded in the fabric of Western democracies.
There is also the angle of foreign nations wanting their case to be heard and western institutions to give them better treatment. The Brussels Commission of the EU, its parliament in Strasbourg and the US Congress are of great concern to foreign governments in this regard. By the way, this is where most of the debates about the lobby have arisen. That’s the kind involving Qatar, which is at the center of the current saga in Strasbourg. Qatar is not breaking the law because it wants to leave the EU parliament on issues that are in its favor. In fact, he can show up and hold meetings to get MPs to leave. He can also invite Doho to watch events where members of parliament will speak for him. It should not be forgotten that Qatar is considered a friendly nation by the West (western democracies respond poorly to lobbying by “enemy” nations) and therefore Qatar’s lobbying activity is welcome.
For me, the line between lobbying and bribery is complex depending on the culture. Different practices are acceptable in different parts of the world. A Nigerian government official would expect either appreciation or facilitation and a person who does not show both can be seen as ungrateful. I have heard from officials in Nigerian organizations that they find it culturally unacceptable to help foreigners and that such foreigners are dismissed as “you are doing your job”. I imagine the cultural nuance of showing and accepting appreciation applies in Qatar.
The Middle Eastern nation declared that it had done nothing wrong in the EU parliament. But did Qatar somehow “appreciate” or “facilitate” it as its culture allows? If you thank an EU Member of Parliament who has been in contact with you about matters of interest, what should the Member of Parliament do? Dismiss and commit crime, thereby destroying useful diplomatic ties? Reported as attempted bribery? Or, gather and consider it as appreciation or ease? The questions about lobbying and bribery are endless.